Strong quake near Tonga prompts tsunami warning

Thursday, March 19th 2009, 5:58 pm
By: News 9

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AP) -- A strong 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck Friday near Tonga, generating a tsunami with the potential of striking coastlines in the South Pacific, officials said. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage, and the country's police commander hours later said the tsunami warning was canceled.
   The quake struck about 130 miles (200 kilometers) south-southeast of the Tongan capital of Nuku'Alofa at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
   The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for Tonga and neighboring islands, and reported that sea level readings confirmed that a potentially destructive tsunami wave was generated.
   The center also advised that some coastal areas of Hawaii could see a rise in sea level and strong currents lasting up to several hours.
   Radio stations in Tonga broadcast tsunami warnings, but police and residents said no big wave had been reported.
   By midmorning, police commander Chris Kelly said the tsunami warning had been canceled.
   Police spokesman Niua Kama said residents did not appear to take the warning seriously.
   "People are out on the roads, laughing at the warning," he told The Associated Press.
   Resident Dana Stephenson said the quake started with "deep rumblings ... then side-to-side movement which seemed to go on forever, but I guess was about 40 seconds -- which is long enough."
   "We're shaken but not stirred," she added.
   New Zealand seismologist Craig Miller said "a long, low rolling motion" from the quake was reported by residents on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island -- more than 1,875 miles (3,000 kilometers) from the epicenter.